How a social media campaign helped Genevieve LaCaze qualify for the 2012 Olympics
There is no doubting Olympian Genevieve LaCaze's athletic prowess, but it was fan-driven social media campaign that gave her the extra push she needed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
In early June 2012, Genevieve ran her last collegiate race for the NCAA and failed to qualify for the Olympics in the 3000 metre steeplechase.
However, she was given a second chance after being asked by her manager to participate in a race in Indiana on 12 June, the day after Australia’s qualifying cut-off date.
Speaking to Pickstar’s Off-Field Podcast, Genevieve said “I thought, if I run really well, how could they not select me? I'll be a day late. It's not the end of the world."
Having just finished college in Florida, this was potentially her last shot at a professional track and field career. With just over 24 hours to prepare for the race, Genevieve found the time pressure and what was at stake quite stressful.
“As you do, you just get a bit dramatic, and everything was going wrong. The flight got in late and we didn't get into Indiana until 1am. Dad and I searched for somewhere to get dinner; we couldn't find anywhere, so we ended up at a thing that's worse quality than Domino's. It was probably like the Taco Bell of pizza. And I'm sitting at 1am, eating this salty, crappy pizza and drinking a bottle of Coke, and my Dad's just looking at me thinking 'you have no hope'.
“I slept in the next day until midday, because the race was at 11pm... I was trying to get coffee before my race to get some caffeine in my system, and we couldn't find a Starbucks. I was just a bit frantic, I think, and a lot of athletes will understand this mindset you get, where you're like, 'oh, nothing's going right, how can this possibly be a good day for a race?'
But then in her one-hour warm-up before the race, Genevieve’s attitude was enlightened with an appreciation of all her achievements and the exciting future possibilities.
“I remember waiting at the track…and I was sitting on the grass with my Dad, and we were just talking about how amazing it would be if I could run well... And I just remember walking out onto the track, and I thought, 'why can't today be a good day?'
“I crossed the line in 9:41. I think the A team was 9:43 flat, and it was a nine-second personal best. Like, nine seconds faster than I'd ever run before. And then I just walked off the track and I was like, 'we need to call someone…I'm in Indiana, no one even knows I'm racing.'
Within 20 minutes, Genevieve's hopes for the Olympics were temporarily diminished by Athletics Australia, who rejected her over-due qualification.
"I was just like, 'but I just ran the A qualifier, and there's no one selected in my event. There is not one girl that has been able to do it in Australia. Why can't you take me? I'm not kicking anyone out'."
But then Gen's school contacted the local paper, and they ran the story of her amazing race and the technicality preventing her going to the Olympics. The next morning, she was in a studio talking to the Today Show.
The stories about Gen's battle to win selection went viral on social media, with thousands of fans expressing their support and protesting Athletics Australia's decision.
“I didn't have Twitter at the time. My friend messaged me, who was an American, and she's like, 'you have a hashtag and it's trending on Twitter…And when I went on Twitter and started to work out what it was, I thought it was really cool because my school, overnight, had gathered together and done a protest in front of Channel Seven and it had the hashtag, and everyone had printed it on their shirt. And I just remember thinking, "how did they even organise that in 24 hours?'
With public pressure mounting Australian Olympic Committee CEO John Coates then advocated for Genevieve's selection in the Australian Olympic Team. Within 48 hours, Athletics Australia overturned their decision and Gen was selected to compete in London.
While she didn’t make it past the heats, Genevieve managed to achieve a new P.B. and secured for herself a professional track and field career.
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